Insult and injury are constant companions when living in Greece and navigating her soul-killing bureaucracy. This gross bureaucracy is one of the most extremely wasteful and parasitic parts of Greek society, and the one that should have been killed off in this crisis. It is not, and instead, it and the rest of the state sector are killing Greece.
The slew of new taxes, known in Greece by the expressive Turkish word, haratzi, recalls the “head tax” required of all Greeks and other Balkan Christians during the Ottoman era. The word expresses the disdain Greeks feel for these many new taxes, levied in large part because for so long, so many taxpayers evaded taxation, particularly the richest people and often as not with government connivance.
The payback has now arrived with interest. This in itself is not necessarily bad as the Greek debt must be controlled, except that, as usual in Greece, the tax has been corrupted, it is ridiculously inefficiently collected, and, as usual, the very staff collecting the taxes are for the most part as rude and as secure in their cushy state positions as before, while the Greek private sector is being choked to death. Here the Greek state, and especially its public sector, shows the full disdain it hasfor the Greek population. Reform remains an illusion.
Consider the story of one middle class Greek in one of Athens’ northern suburbs, and his saga in the process of trying to pay one such tax. Three hours’ wait, no internet payment option, no real process or procedure. An old man, who waited for a similar length of time, asked for the bathroom. The Little Caesars behind the desk informed him the restrooms were reserved for employees and the unfortunate man had to relieve himself outside! The Greek state knows full well how to humiliate her citizens.
Not only is the whole process a waste of citizens’ time and humiliating, it is also horribly inefficient. In an e-commerce era, payments can be done safely over the web. The benefits to the collector, the Greek state, are substantial. It reduces physical cash collections, automates and concentrates balances as quickly as possible, while at the same time giving the payer as many payment options as possible. This ensures quick collection of funds, minimized the security issues associated with cash, and provided for multiple, convenient, and safe ways of concentrating funds, as well as a more secure audit trail.
Having said the above, perhaps the answer to “why doesn’t the state encourage this?” is rather obvious. The process has suited the public sector all too well, though not the public. Of course, the official lines are different, such as “Greeks like to pay in cash, and have the stamped receipt that they paid.” That may have held water in the past, but internet penetration in households is now such that every Greek bank provides such a service, and the Greek State, now at the precipice of bankruptcy, could easily invest in a safe system to collect payment via credit or debt card. Greece has belatedly entered the current century by allowing for some payments, including some taxes, to be done online through the banks. There are grandiose plans to expand use of new IT across the Finance Ministry. But bill clarifications or disputes all have to be done in person — since tax bills usually come without explanatory letters –, and here the state exacts its vengeance (for what I do not know) on its citizens.
Perhaps the answer is facing you across the till at any Greek government office. The pocket pasha sitting in his chair believes that his time and job is simply more valuable than yours and nobody but a few newly-assigned Troika experts seems to be challenging these people to reorganize based on productivity. The Greek state, which Greeks (and bondholders) fund, seems to agree. The state even humiliates you when you try to do your civic duty.